Phillip Gold (bono_zen) wrote,
Phillip Gold

Michael Hutchence-album review

Among my friends I'm one of the few who actually admit to being an Inxs fan. Most people I know are rather ambivalent about the Aussie sextet who had their heyday in the late 80's-early 90's. I decided to further twist heads and rather than review one of their albums go ahead and review their former frontman's posthumous solo album. Inxs were formed in the late 1970's in Australia somewhere between disco, glam, funk, synth-pop, punk and hard rock you got Inxs they were always a synthesized band in terms of influence never truly pure in sound but they still managed to have a distinct sound. Inxs toured relentlessly on the pub circuit of Australia's outback in their earliest days and which helped earned the band a devoted live following and a reputation for being an exciting live act. Inxs became a gradual success in their native land with their first couple albums and then they made a splash in America with their 3rd album and gradually on the back of constant tours and subsequent hit singles and albums hit their peak between 1987's multi-million selling Kick and its 1990 followup X. After that Inxs began a gradual decline of popularity in America though they still remained successful elsewhere in the world particularly in Europe, Canada, Australia and Latin America. In the US they didn't totally disappear from the charts but they had much more moderate sales than in the previous decade. In the UK they actually sold more records in the 1990's than the 1980's doing an inverse in trends. Grunge and alternative rock explain their decline here in the US but their brand of dance-hard rock pop fusion remained popular in the always dance happy European markets. Anyway a number of factors lead to their popularity in the first place. They were an exciting live act, with catchy and well crafted pop songs even if they were formulaic at times. The main reason according to alot of people for their massive success was their former frontman the late Michael Hutchence. Hutchence was to many the 80's version of Mick Jagger meets Jim Morrison. He was often described as sensual, sensitive, articulate, cocky and engaging. One of those who made women swoon and men want to make women swoon the way he did. Hutchence eventually as time wore on became the focus of the band, he was always the visual focus live and in the press. His personal life eventually became more important to many sectors of the public than his musical legacy. In his later days he was seen as a man famous for being famous more than as a man famous for making good and successful music. His romances were tabloid fodder and rumor (something which he apparently loathed greatly.) Eventually consumed by depression supposedly brought on by the pressures of his increasing celebrity profile, his band's declining status and a severe brain injury suffered in 1992 Hutchence under the influence of alot of illicit substances committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt in a Sydney hotel room on November 22nd 1997. He was 37. After his death it was speculated by some that he died in an act of auto erotic asphyxiation as opposed to suicide, though this has never been officially substantiated. Given all those details it's easy to see why one gets caught up in the man's life, however I think it's important to look past the sordid details of Hutchence's life true or false and focus more on what brought him to the world's attention in the first place. His music.

I first heard Inxs as a child when my dad played Kick constantly and I always saw their music videos on MTV. Being born in 1986 I was born right before their heyday. They were never my favorite band but one I always enjoyed. They had catchy songs and cool videos for their day. I thought Hutchence had really cool looking hair to match. Anyway I kinda lost track of them as they didn't seem as relevant in the States after time passed but in my teens as I took to looking at my old favorites as a kid and I grew to have a greater appreciation for their catalog with Hutchence and now own most of their albums with him. I remember vaguely hearing about his death in 1997 when I was in 6th grade. I also read some biographies of him and found him to have a lead a pretty interesting life. According to most accounts Hutchence was a very complex and paradoxical man in many ways. He was in a pop band but mostly listened to underground music and had a greater appreciation of newer, more up and coming bands than in his peers, like U2, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and REM though he was friends with those bands. He often advocated a change in a more experimental direction and often felt Inxs was too formulaic and he often tried to break out of his box but collaborating with others. He was also a man praised for his lyrical and vocal abilities by his peers but very insecure about his abilities. He welcomed success and some of the jet-setting cliches of rock star life, the money, booze and women but was always recognized as very shy, retiring and very intelligent in conversation confounding the expectations of those who confused his onstage persona with his offstage persona.

Anyway in Hutchence's desire to break away from the Inxs mold lead him to start laboring off and on over a solo album that he financed himself...starting in 1995 and was left nearly completed by his death in 1997. Hutchence had by the mid 1990's moved to London to be more central to the music business in Europe where he was very recognizable as a major celeb. Furthermore he was involved with British TV presenter-journalist Paula Yates who was the wife of Bob Geldof (the Live Aid organizer, Boomtown Rats singer) Yates left Geldof for Hutchence in late 94 early 1995. The couple became tabloid fodder and were constantly hounded by the paparazzi furthermore a very public custody battle over Yates and Geldof's kids in court dragged Hutchence into the public's eye more than he was used. According to many this relationship and the complications it entailed were his downfall. Hutchence had a daughter with Yates and that seemed to bring him some respite but it was a constant struggle to get back to a simpler more normal way of life for him. Music was his outlet he recorded and toured his Inxs swan song Elegantly Wasted in 1996-97 but still continued his solo efforts in his time off. He sought the collaboration of others to help him craft an album which he hoped would be something different than what people expected of him. He teamed with Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill and Black Grape multi-instrumentalist/producer Danny Saber for production and cowriting. He also used Tim Simeonon from Bomb the Bass as well as Joe Strummer from the Clash among many session musicians.

So does Hutchence deliver up to expectations with his solo album? It's hard to say for him. Since he died before it was completed but with Gill and Saber's final touches on polishing up some tracks and Bono's help on the final song the album was deemed release worthy and was released in 1999/2000. I bough the album just out of curiosity and found it a pleasing listening. I always liked Hutchence's voice in addition to his cool hairstyle! I found his lyrics to be much more personal and engaging than his work with Inxs. Much of the lyrical content is drawn from his frustration with celebrity and his personal woes. In the wake of his suicide it becomes somewhat poignant. The album has a very lively/lush sound at times but it's also gritty and downright somber at others, of which the lyrics certainly reflect. It's a very passionate, reflective record full of yearning to get on with life and not be caught in the problems of the moment. Hope for a return to brighter and happy things again. Not the work of a man who was happy all the time that much is for certain. It opens with Let Me Show You featuring some background vocals by Joe Strummer. It's an rocking opener full of distorted guitar and bouncing and pounding rhythms. Which for Inxs fans expecting Need You Tonight part 2 will be a total earfuck. The album moves to a downtempo trip hop lament with strings called Possibilities with a definite Portishead vibe. It's got the album's best lyric quite possibly and it's very poignant given that it was the last song Hutchence recorded a few days before his death. It's a song of soul searching, self doubt and hope all in one. Saber's production is quite commendable here! From here the album gets funky with its more Inxs like feel on Get on the Inside which features more interesting lyrics and passionate delivery from Hutchence. Fear is the 4th song it's another funky though more digital sounding number which features Hutchence ranting on the troubles of fame. All I'm Saying follows as one of the album's more ambient subdued moments. It's not my favorite by any stretch but it does contribute to the overall tone of the album. A Straight Line is the next number which is fairly straight ahead rock with some funky overtones. Hutchence again is very strong in the vocal/lyric department (as he is throughout the record.) He follows this with the lyrically sparse Baby It's Alright which showcases some very interesting phrasing on Hutchence's lyrics. It's a more funky distorted number, with a post grunge tone to the chorus. Don't Save Me From Myself is an interesting song that is definitely offering some insight into Hutchence's mindset in his later days. Musically it's an ok song but things pick up after that with his ode to Yates in She Flirts for England which features some good guitar work but Andy Gill (which is quite subtle but good on the record as a whole.) Flesh and Blood is the most subtle and ambient moment on the record, much like Possibilities it has a nearly flawless lyric and very good spacious production to match. Hutchence is filled with lots of yearning in his delivery and his death only magnifies the sorrow on such a track, the strings and keyboards are very nice and trippy with a set of headphones. Put The Pieces Back Together is a fairly funky almost trip hop like song that follows, though it more serves as a supporting track than a standout. Breathe is Hutchence gone industrial he's appealing the NIN influence on this song and does so with some success. The final song is more digital meets strings sounds put together. A duet featuring Bono from U2 called Slide Away which has Hutchence giving his more straightforward suicidal hinting and pleading for a return to a simpler way of life. The song was only partially completed in Hutchence's lifetime, Bono with Saber and Gill recorded some verses serving as an elegy of sorts for Hutchence. The effect is poignant but it not too surprising.

So what's the verdict here? How can one know if it meets its author's expectations given that he passed before it's completion. Hutchence wanted his solo record to confound his critics and friends alike, to make him appear more insightful, break him out of the Inxs mold he was known for and had come to feel was holding him back somewhat. It was also to get some fucking things off his chest when life seemed to be shitting on him the most. My verdict is that its a very good record for the most part. It's not a great leap forward for Hutchence but it does push his boundaries and expand his horizons for sure. It's rewarding with subsequent listens, although the urgency of some the lyrics is potent it can be a bit much for those touched by his death. Hutchence certainly did meet some expectations. He can't help but sound like the singer from Inxs on some of the songs but he certainly shows that he's not afraid to play around with new sounds with the more industrial, trip hop, psychedelic and rockier moments on the record. Furthermore he actually pulls it off at times. The boldness of his musical tastes certainly is commendable. His lyrics are also alot more focused, direct and thematic than with Inxs where they are more universal and anthemic. Also he gets props for his downright passionate singing which whether done with abandon or restraint is very good throughout the record. So in conclusion I can say it's a good record for those looking to get a mix of electronica, techno, funk and industrial alternative rock. It's also a good record for the die hard Inxs fan whose curious to hear something other one of the band's hits on the radio. I give it a two thumbs up!
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